Read The Border Lords Online

Authors: T. Jefferson Parker

Tags: #Fiction, #Thrillers, #General

The Border Lords (8 page)

BOOK: The Border Lords
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Ozburn finished another Pacifico and banged the bottle on the tabletop for more. The German who ran the place looked at him and nodded.

Y carne para de perro!
” he called.
And meat for the dog.
The German brought two more beers and a tortilla topped with
machaca
scraps for Daisy. She stood wagging her tail and waited for Ozburn to set the tortilla on the floor before snorting up the food. The owner disappeared into the darker confines of the dining room and came back a moment later with dinner.
They talked of
fútbol
and the Mexican soap operas they both enjoyed, of Calderón and Obama. They drank three beers each and most of a bottle of good
reposado
. Mateo wore one of the short-sleeved plaid shirts of the mountain vaqueros, and a belt with a large oval slab of silver for a buckle
,
which made him look more like a cowboy than a
narco.
His hair was cut short and artlessly. But his boots were ostrich and he wore a Rolex with diamonds and a snazzy GPS unit clipped on his belt next to the gigantic buckle, and his sidearm was a gold-plated .45 with etchings of the
narco
saint Malverde on the grips.
When the dishes were cleared Mateo lit an American Camel and spoke in Spanish.
—Carlos is worried about his houses in San Ysidro and Yuma, Mateo hissed softly.

My
houses.
—He is worried that there was no message from the Zetas. No warning to abandon our hold on Buenavista. No mutilation. Why would the Gulf Cartel assassinate three of our
sicarios
and not take credit for it?
—Now I am supposed to answer for the Zetas?
—You answer me.
—I’ll answer you: The Gulf Cartel has someone inside your organization. That’s the only explanation. It’s the trouble with any organization. That’s why I wasn’t so sure about this whole thing when you people first came after me.
Mateo’s face was a dark, angular mask, too fixed to read. Ozburn knew that Mateo “El Gordo” Leya had just last week made the United States’s Kingpins list, which put a government price on his head. This of course was a matter of pride among the higher
narcos. Maybe it’s gone to his head
, thought Ozburn: Mateo did seem a bit more scornful than usual.
—We need to know that your houses are safe for our people.
—I need to know that your people are safe for my houses. I paid over two hundred grand each for those dumps!
—Carlos needs to know.
—Mateo, you guys figure it out. And I’ll tell you both this: If my houses in San Ysidro or Yuma get hit, I’m out of this business. And you guys have one bigass problem.
—We are not the problem, Mateo said with a tone of finality. He sat back and gave Ozburn that sleepy look again.
Ozburn’s anger spiked fast. He’d always had a temper, but for the last couple of months it had been growing steadily worse. The more he tried to contain it, the faster and harder it hit. And the more fun it was to just let it rip.
He looked out at the heaving, gray Pacific and waited for the anger to pass before he spoke again. He had bigger fish to fry than three dead
sicarios
and a re-grout job on the bloody travertine.
—I want to buy some of those Love 32s your people carry.
Mateo gave him a glassy smile.
—Only Carlos has the Love 32s, he said.
—You told me he’d think about selling me some. Tell him I’m ready. I want one hundred of them.
—Very expensive.
—I’ve got a lot of money.
—Only Carlos has those guns.
—I heard that he has them made right here in Mexico.
Mateo stared at him blankly.
—By an American gunmaker. Can you imagine that, Mateo? An American gunmaker operating a secret factory south of the border? A factory protected by the North Baja Cartel? I’m in the business of guns. I hear these things, Mateo. I don’t make them up.
Ozburn grinned. In fact, he was making part of it up. He knew for a fact that Blowdown had come
that
close to busting Ron Pace, a young California gunmaker, last year. Sean had worked that operation. But Pace had gotten lucky and his thousand pistols had made their way south to Mexico and into the hands of Herredia’s
sicarios.
He knew also that Pace and his pretty partner in crime had vanished from the U.S.A. So Ozburn wondered if Pace might be under the wing of Herredia, possibly even making guns for him. Guns were more valuable than gold in Mexico because you couldn’t get them legally. The fact that Mateo would have this conversation about the possible sale of Love 32s told Ozburn that such a thing was very, very possible.
Mateo cracked a rare smile. His teeth were large and dilapidated and the bicuspids were rimmed with gold.
—They are made by the devil in hell, just for us.
—See, I was right.
—Maybe some truth.
—Tell Carlos I want to buy a hundred of them and I don’t expect them to be free. I can move them and make some good bucks if the price is right. Because I’ll tell you something, Mateo—at the rate your killers are getting themselves killed in my houses, I need a new profit center.
Mateo’s smile brought another quick ripple of fury to Ozburn’s brain. He’d benched three hundred seventy pounds in the gym a week ago and he wondered how it would feel to strangle bare-handed the sinewy Sinaloan. Good indeed. But he’d have to settle for less right at the moment.
So he leveled his pale blue eyes on Mateo and growled at him. It was a short, supple snarl. His lips were back and his teeth were sudsed with saliva.
Mateo smiled sleepily but looked toward his gunmen near the beer cooler. They ambled over. From under the table unfurled Daisy, her back bristling, her head down and teeth bared at them.
One of them swung his coat back to draw his sidearm, and Ozburn launched. He was six feet four and weighed two hundred forty pounds but he was fast as a thought. He had his autoloader pressed to the man’s forehead before the
sicario
could get his gun up, and his free hand placed around the throat of the gunman beside him.
Ozburn growled again, this time at Daisy, and she dropped her tail and hung her head and slunk back under the table. Then Ozburn lowered his gun and took his hand off the man’s neck.
—You guys sure get jumpy after a few beers. Sorry about the safe house shoot-up but that’s your problem, amigos, not mine. I’m not taking the rap for that or anything else the North Baja Cartel brings upon itself. Tell Carlos I won’t charge him a cleaning fee for my messed-up home. Tell Carlos anytime he wants to pull his boys out of San Ysidro and Yuma, that’s fine with me. I’ll get more rent on the open market, and no brains in my nice clean kitchens. And tell Carlos I want to buy a hundred of those Love 32s.
He growled again, just a quick one, just a snarl, then clicked his tongue, and Daisy bounded out from under the table and led the way to the waiting car and Leftwich.
 
 
Ozburn watched the rugged hills bounce past.
He felt jacked up and itching for Seliah, no surprise there. Leftwich offered him the ancient, battered silver flask and Ozburn took a gulp of the powerful blend. Leftwich claimed to have invented it at seminary.
“How did it go, Sean?”
“Mateo’s suspicious but he can’t put me at the safe house. And he’ll have to tell Herredia I want the guns.”
“Perfect.”
Ozburn felt the drink melt down into him. It tasted of smoky tequila with a soft undertone that reminded him of honeydew melon. Woody and clean and just a little sweet. It was always cool, which was odd, considering the flask rode in the priest’s jacket pocket pretty much twenty-four/seven. Ozburn suspected cucumbers because of their unique thermal properties. Leftwich told him there were eight ingredients in it but wouldn’t tell him what they were.
“My bones ache. My balls ache. I feel like biting people. I still hear mice walking two rooms away and I can hardly gag down a glass of clean water. Ever since I met you I’ve been falling apart, Joe.”
Leftwich nipped, then offered the flask, and Sean drank again. “But coming together, too, wouldn’t you say? Strong as a horse and your eyesight is keen and you’re accomplishing something meaningful in your life. And I’ll bet you and Seliah are making some very powerful love.”
“You don’t talk about her.”
“I happen to be very fond of her.”
“She wasn’t too happy about you drinking me under the table in Costa Rica.”

You
drank you under the table in Costa Rica.”
Ozburn glanced at the padre. Joe wore his usual black shirt and the stiff white collar. He wondered how the man could stay comfortable in those clothes all day, every day, in the border heat and dust. “You coming to Mulege or not?”
“No, thank you, Sean. The Lord’s work awaits me in L.A.”
Five hours later
Ozburn climbed the stairs to the Mulege apartment with one young gunman ahead of him and one behind.
The
narcos
seem to get younger every year
, he thought. He carried a briefcase that had already been inspected by the lead boy, who had also thoroughly searched him for weapons. Ozburn was giddy with anticipation as he took the next step on his dark journey. Just a few days ago he had sent word out through one of his best informants to Benjamin Armenta, word that there were to be new machine pistols for sale, machine pistols with very special powers. And the Gulf Cartel had responded quickly to the news.
The gunman knocked, and the door opened a moment later and Ozburn stepped inside. The apartment was poorly lit and smelled of cigarette smoke and chorizo and coffee. Ozburn thought it wasn’t much of a place for a powerful crime clan. Hard times in the
narco
trade.
Seated at a small kitchen table was a large man wearing a white guayabera shirt, jeans, boots and sunglasses. His face was pitted.
“My name is Paco.”
“Gravas.”
The gunmen joined a third young man and now the three of them stood with their backs to the door.
Kids
, thought Ozburn.
Sixty years of life between them. This is their future.
Paco motioned to him. Ozburn set the briefcase on the table and opened it and turned it to face the big man like a jeweler displaying a watch in a case. Paco appeared to be staring at the Love 32, though Ozburn couldn’t see his eyes. Ozburn had already converted it to full automatic fire, inserted the fifty-shot magazine, extended the telescoping butt rods and screwed the noise suppressor onto the end of the barrel.
You only get to make one first impression
, he thought.
“This is the Love Thirty-two, Paco.”
The man lifted the gun in his big dark hand. His finger looked tight within the trigger guard and Ozburn wondered why they had to send a bear to test-fire a handgun.
“You won’t be disappointed. Those four boxes of ACP ammo are my gift to you. If you decide not to buy these guns, I trust that you’ll get this one back to me. They run seventeen fifty a copy. Seventeen fifty.”
“We are not thieves.”
“No. You are some of the finest businessmen in all of Mexico.”
Paco racked the gun and aimed it at Ozburn and pulled the trigger. “Armenta will judge.”
“Fine with me. I’ll await his decision. By the way, we can’t make these things overnight. If he wants them soon, he’ll have to let me know soon. And it’s strictly American dollars, half up front and half when we’re done. We don’t deliver. You pick them up when and where we tell you to. You transport them. That’s how it works in the gun biz.”
“I know how it works.”
“Nice meeting you.”
Ozburn turned and walked out, his heart beating fast and an ache in his throat.
 
 
He flew back low,
north across the sparkling Gulf of California,
Betty
casting her small, slow shadow upon the vast sea. He saw a pod of gray whales and watched them breach and blow. The coast was dotted with islands, some green and some stripped bare by goats. The secret of Mexican airspace was to stay low, under the radar. You didn’t need to file a flight plan for short jaunts across the border. With no radio and no transponder, he was essentially invisible. If Mexican authorities got tough with him, he’d act like a dumbass gringo with no idea where he was or how he’d gotten there.
He used a private runway outside of Calexico. The owner was an acquaintance and he’d given Ozburn permission. He still circled it his lucky three times, looking for signs of his ATF family, who were no doubt frantic to bring him in. But the strip was deserted and smooth, and Ozburn set
Betty
down short and sweet.
He got out Daisy’s kibble and poured some into her bowl and set the bowl under the wing of the plane. While she ate he watched the distant cars on I-8 and listened to the roar of the blood in his ears.
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